Darkest Before the Dawn

FLASHBACK 1


Paris
Five years ago…

"Yes, of course," Nikolas said into the telephone. He scribbled furiously on his calendar the particulars of his teleconference. A smile crossed his face as his said, "Yes, my beautiful wife will be right beside me. We'll have dinner here at the chalet, so you can expect us to arrive a little after seven. Until then."

Dawn stood just outside of Nikolas' study. After spending most of the day reviewing the synopsis for DJLS' upcoming video shoot, she was bored. Dominik was down for a nap, so she had gone in search of Nikolas. Her footsteps had paused when she heard him mention her. She wasn't sure why, but she felt a little annoyed. She tried to brush the feeling aside as she stepped across the threshold. "Hi, there," she said with a smile.

Nikolas glanced up from his notepad and smiled at her. "Hi, yourself. What's up?"

Dawn shrugged. "Not much. Does something have to be up for me to grace your office with my presence?" she asked, grinning.

Nikolas laughed. He set his pen on the desk and then rolled back away from the desk. With outstretched arms and a lascivious leer, he said, "Well, when you put it that way…"

He beckoned to her with one hand while the other suggestively patted his lap. Dawn moved to stand beside his desk. Her hands were on her hips, her eyebrow was raised, and her brown eyes danced. "Is that supposed to be an invitation?"

Rolling his eyes, Nikolas dropped his arms to rest on his armrest. After releasing a long, dramatic sigh, he said, "Well, if you gotta ask-"

"I accept!" Dawn said, giggling as she cut him off and hopped onto his lap.

"Ow!" he moaned playfully. "Be careful."

"Aren't I always?" she asked, batting her eyelashes at him. Her hand lovingly caressed his clean-shaven face. Tilting his head upwards, she lowered her head to his. She teasingly brushed her nose against his. She giggled softly as Nikolas released a deep growl in protest. A soft chuckle was still on her lips as she covered his mouth with a gentle kiss that soon became deep and passionate as Nikolas took control.

"You have your moments," he breathlessly admitted after their kiss had ended. He leaned back against the brown leather chair. Lacing his fingers with hers, he asked, "So, are you prepared for tonight? I told Jean-Pierre to expect us around seven or so."

"Oh, did you?" Dawn said, leaving Nikolas' lap. She moved behind him and stared sightlessly out of the windows. The mid-day morning sun shone down brightly onto the back garden, but its beauty was lost on Dawn. Her thoughts were on the upcoming dinner party: the people she didn't really know and how much she didn't want to attend it. She released a deep sigh as she wrapped her arms around herself.

"Dawn?" Nikolas asked, swiveling around to look at her. "What's wrong? I thought you wanted to go."

She shook her head. "Not really."

"Why not?" He rose from the chair and stood behind her. His arms closed around her waist as he waited for her to answer him.

"I'd just rather stay here with Dom," she said with a shrug. "Besides, it's not like I'd be missed-"

"I'd miss you," he told her. He turned her so that she faced him. "Please come with me tonight. I promise we won't stay long."

"Nikky, I…"

"I have to go into the city for an hour or so. Come with me. While we're there, you can choose a dress to wear," he suggested.

Dawn frowned. "What? A new dress?" She extricated herself from his arms and reached for the latch to open the windows. She rested her palms in the windowsill and leaned out, taking a deep breath as she did so. "You think a new dress will make it better?"

"It has before, hasn't it?" he said, laughing softly. As he moved towards her, he didn't notice that she had grown stiff at his comment. When he reached her, he kissed her cheek. "You're always saying that we don't spend enough time together. We can change that this afternoon. What do you say? Is it a date?"

"Yeah," she mumbled. She looked at his smiling face and a faint smile came to her lips. "Yeah, it's a date."

~*~

With three dresses hanging over her arm, Dawn closed the dressing room door behind her. Her interest in finding a new dress had perked her up a slight bit, but not much. After passing several boutiques and seeing the confusion and irritation cloud Nikolas' eyes each time she refused to enter them, she had finally agreed to go inside the present one, known as Alyce's. To Dawn's surprise, three dresses had caught her eye. The saleswoman had quickly responded to Nikolas' request that his wife's needs be met and within seconds, Dawn was ushered inside the spacious dressing room.

Dawn hung the dresses up on the hook and then removed her clothing. She and Nikolas had enjoyed many shopping expeditions in the past and she knew that he expected her to model the dresses for him. The final decision was always hers, but the appreciative gleam in his brown eyes always aided in helping her make it. Standing in the center of the dressing room, she looked at each dress, wondering which floor-length gown to try on first. There was a white halter-style with the knee-high split. On the second hook hung a black gown with the spaghetti straps. The final one was a red strapless number with a red and black bolero jacket that would certainly stop traffic. She chose the red one.

The dress fit her like a second skin, clinging in all of the right places. Looking at her reflection, she imagined Nikolas' brown eyes darkening as he looked at her and she smiled. Suddenly, a new dress didn't seem so bad. After taking one last glance in the mirror, Dawn fluffed her hair, straightened her shoulders and then left the dressing room.

His eyes were glued to the portfolio in his lap. His cell phone was in his right hand, and he absently tapped it against his chin. A slight frown creased his brow, as something didn't quite add up for him. Dawn's smile widened as she watched her husband. Taking her time to cross the room, she kept her eyes on him. She wanted to make sure that when he raised his eyes from his work, the first sight they would behold would be her. And, they were.

Nikolas' mouth dropped opened as Dawn's hips swayed from side to side with her every step. The portfolio and cell phone were forgotten as she stood before him and slowly lowered the bolero jacket from her shoulders. "Do you like?" she asked, her voice low and husky.

"I like," he murmured, reaching for her hand. "Beautiful."

"You think so?" she asked, giggling softly as he released her hand to place his hands around her waist. "Nikky!" she exclaimed as his insistent hands pulled her closer to him.

"What?" he asked, softly.

"Behave yourself!" she told him. She swatted his hands away until they grudgingly fell from her waist. She took a step back and twirled in front of him. "What do you think? Is this one a winner or what?"

"It's definitely a winner," he said, resting his back against the cushioned chair. "So, what are you wearing to the get-together tonight?"

"This," she said. "I thought you liked it."

"I do," he said. Frowning, he added, "But…"

"I'm covered up in all the right places," she said, knowing the reason for his hesitation. "And, I promise to keep the jacket on."

"Just as long as you promise, Mrs. Cassadine!" he said, rising from the plush loveseat. He moved to stand right before her. Gently, his hands cupped her face. Softly, his voice spoke to her. "I'm happy to see that smile on your face. I knew that a new dress would cheer you up."

"Yeah, sure," Dawn slowly replied. She raised her cheek in anticipation for his kiss. She returned his tender caress with one of her own before she left him and went back inside the dressing room.

Her mind was on Nikolas' comments as her hands began to disrobe her. Did he really think a new dress could determine her mood? Sure, she loved clothes as most women did, but she wasn't so shallow as to need a new outfit to 'put a smile on her face.' Nikolas knew her better than that…didn't he?

As she sought answers to her silent questions, she reached for the clothes she had been wearing when they came in. She had just pulled up her slim, short lavender skirt and her hands were on the zipper as sudden laughter startled her. Laughing softly at herself, Dawn pulled up her zipper and then slid her arms inside her matching white blouse. Her laughter slowly came to a stop when the sources of the sudden mirth began to speak in their native tongue. Dawn wasn't prone to eavesdropping, but when the Cassadine name was mentioned, her interest was piqued.

After stepping into her sandals, she moved to the dressing door to get a better listen. She wasn't fluent in French, but she knew enough to understand that she and Nikolas was the subject of their conversation. According to her fellow shoppers, Nikolas would soon grow tired of his beautiful singing trophy. As most men, he loved to showcase his prized possessions, but in time, he would want a possession of value and not one that would depreciate over time.

Dawn's old insecurities threatened to resurface, but she pushed them away. They were jealous, she told herself. Those two gossiping wenches wished they had what she and Nikolas had. She was more than a face or a body to Nikolas. He knew the woman inside of her and she was the woman he loved. His comments about the new dress making her feel better weren't meant to belittle her, Dawn thought. Assuming Stefan's role as the head of the Cassadine fortune had made Nikolas a little distracted lately, but she knew that he loved her. Besides, women who didn't have anything better to do than gossip or speculate could never understand a love like theirs.

Feeling confident and secure, Dawn opened her dressing room door. With a pleasant smile on her face, she greeted the two women who had found her marriage to Nikolas so fascinating. "Bonjour," she said to each of them before leaving the area and moving across the store to stand beside her husband.

~*~

"Are you sure this is the right road?" Nikolas frowned as he squinted at the lush, green French countryside. His foot eased off of the accelerator and the black Porsche slowed to a snail's pace.

"Mm…maybe," Dawn said, chewing on her bottom lip. Her brown eyes danced with mischief and she looked away from him, lest her true intentions were revealed. "That's what it looked like on the map."

Nikolas glanced at her. "Let me see it," he said, steering the car to the side of the road.

"Why?" she asked, shoving the map underneath the seat. "Can't we just relax and enjoy the fresh air and beautiful landscape?"

"Sweetheart," he said, after drawing a long breath, "we don’t even know where we are. We need to get back on track and we need to do it before we lose the light. I don’t want to be lost out here-"

"Why not?" she asked, leaning her head out of the car. "I could think of worse places."

"For one thing, we're not protected."

"No one even knows we're out here!" she said, sliding back down into her seat.

"Exactly!" he agreed. "I'm calling the house and telling them where we are."

"Oh, no you're not," she objected. Dawn took his cell phone from him and threw it into the open field.

"What did you do that for?" Nikolas cried. He pushed his door open and left the car in search of the phone. Behind him, he heard Dawn's door open and slam shut. He knew she was right behind him. He guessed that she was irritated with him, but not nearly as much as he was with her. And, he was completely unprepared for what she did next.

Irritation and desire fought viciously inside of Dawn. She hadn't seen anything wrong with their detour and she was perturbed that Nikolas had. But, seeing the set jaw and the way he stormed through the grass as he searched for his phone tantalized her. So, with Jean-Pierre's dinner party and the missing cellular being the last things on Dawn's mind, she pushed Nikolas to the ground and landed on top of him.

"Dawn," Nikolas bit out, glaring at her as she straddled him, "what are you doing?"

A wicked gleam brightened her brown eyes. Shrugging out of her red and black bolero jacket, she breathlessly answered him. "What does it look like?"

"No," he pronounced, rising to a sitting position. "We're not-"

Dawn's mouth kissed away the rest of his reply. Her mouth brushed against his until his lips parted. A low moan escaped from him as her tongue slid across his. His fingers threaded in her long, wavy hair as the kiss deepened. Wanting nothing more than to have her pressed against him, Nikolas kept his lips locked to hers as he fell backwards unto the ground.

"Doesn't this feel incredible?" she murmured against his ear. Her hands tugged on his tie as her lips nibbled on his earlobe.

Nikolas moaned softly. His hands slid from her waist to cup her behind. He molded her against him and his moan became a growl as she ground her lower body against his. Arching his back, he moved his pelvis in time with hers. One hand moved to find the zipper on her dress when a bird's cry reminded him of their surroundings. In one swift movement, he pulled them both up from the ground. Their labored breathing was loud as they stared at each other.

"In a field?" Nikolas demanded as he readjusted his clothing.

"So?" she shrugged, a little taken aback by his response.

"So?" he repeated, his expression incredulous. "Is that why you told me to turn down that road? So that we could make love in a field?"

"No!" she answered. "I just thought we could spend a few extra minutes alone together."

"And, then what?" he asked her.

"What are you asking me?" she asked quietly. He held up her jacket for her to put it back on, but she took it from him. As she waited for his response, she pulled the jacket on.

"Dawn."

"Nikolas, what are you asking me? I told you that I didn't intend for us to make love out here. You don't believe me? Anyway, what would be so wrong if we did?"

"I believe you," he admitted. He held out his hand and added, "Let's go."

"No," she said, moving away from him and his outstretched hand. "Answer me. What would be wrong if we did? We love each other. There's nothing wrong with a little spontaneity."

"In a field?" he said, sweeping his arms out. "We're already late for Jean-Pierre's party and you were going for a little spontaneity. Sweetheart, there's a time and a place for everything. This was neither the time nor the place for that."

"'For that'?" Dawn repeated. "Why does it sound so cheap when you say it like that?"

"We're in a field!" Nikolas cried. "I'm not making it sound any more than what it is-"

"Oh," Dawn said, her voice quickly becoming hoarse. "So my wanting to make love with you 'in a field' no less is cheap? My God, you make me feel like a whore for wanting you."

With tears streaming down her cheeks, Dawn was barely able to say the words. She lifted her dress from the ground and ran back to the car. Blindly, she fumbled for the door handle. After a few attempts, she pulled it open and reclaimed her position in the passenger seat. Wiping at the tears on her face, she hoped that Nikolas would keep his thoughts to himself and just take her back to the chalet.

Unaware of Dawn's hopes, Nikolas slid inside the driver seat beside her. He handed her his handkerchief and watched her as she wiped her tearstained cheeks and blew her nose. He drew a long breath as he saw her reddened eyes and puffy cheeks. "Dawn, I'm sorry-"

"Just take me home. I want to see Dom and I know that you have your party to go to," she told him as she secured her seat belt.

"I didn't mean to make it sound like that-"

"Nikolas-"

"Sweetheart, please hear me out, okay?" he pleaded. He ached to wipe away the fresh tear that slid down her cheek, but he held back. He was certain that she would not appreciate the gesture. Keeping his eyes on her, he said softly, "I was wrong to become so angry. I love you, and you've got to know that… I would never… Dawn, a whore? Did I really make you feel like that?"

Between sniffles, she nodded. "Yes, I felt like a whore. Next time, I'll control my libido. I'm now fully aware that there is a time and a place for such things-"

"Dawn, don't. Please?" He took a chance and lightly caressed her cheek with the back of his fingers. She didn't flinch and his fingers moved to her chin. He lifted her face, silently asking her to look at him. She did and he said, "I was wrong about that, too, and I am so very sorry. I spoke without thinking and I hurt you. It's just that I wasn't prepared."

"That's what spontaneity is all about. Not being prepared and just going with it."

"But why here? This field? Tonight?" he asked. "I'm trying to understand. I thought you were okay with attending the party. The dress-"

"-is a piece of fabric sown together. It doesn't define who I am, and it doesn't have any bearing on my moods or feelings. I was never really okay about attending the party. I agreed to go because you wanted me to. I thought it would be enough, but…"

"But, what?" he asked, desperate to understand.

"But, I don't want to be a dress on your arm-"

"What?" he interjected. "A dress on my arm? Dawn Cassadine, you are my wife! I don't give a damn about what you're wearing as long as you're there with me."

"Why?" she asked, turning away from him.

Nikolas cupped her face so that her eyes were on his again. In her eyes, the reflection of the setting sun shone and twilight was orange and breathtaking. Neither was nearly as beautiful as she was to him. "Because I love you. Maybe I'm being selfish for being so greedy for wanting you beside me, but I do. So there. I'm greedy and I'm selfish. I guess that makes me a true Cassadine."

"No, it makes you human," she stated. "I love being with you. I miss you when you're working or when I'm recording. I thought this little detour would be fun. Maybe I thought we'd make love, but oh, I don't know! It's just that those people… Nikky, I'm nothing like them. They…we… I just don't connect with them. I've tried, and it's just not working. I don't want to be a hindrance for you at those functions. I feel like I'm on spectacle and if I don't do or say the right thing, they're gonna snicker behind your back and not take you seriously. Baby, you've worked too hard to not be taken seriously. The transition from Father to you had enough difficulties without me making it more difficult for you."

"Dawn!" Nikolas exclaimed. He breathed deeply, trying to decide whether to kiss her for her thoughtfulness or to berate her for allowing the old insecurities to return. He opted to embrace her instead.

His arms folded around her and his cheek rested against hers. "My love, I don't give a shit about those people! You and Dom are the only ones who matter to me. I don't care what they think about me, and don't even think about saying the wrong thing. It's not possible. But, I have to agree about you being on spectacle. You are. Everyone watches you, all the women wish they could be you and all the men wish they were me."

"Nikky!" she said, laughing softly as she pulled away to look at his face. "You're going too far now."

"It's true," he said, grinning. "I watch them watching you. The women wish that they had your youth, your talent, your grace and your inner and outer beauty. The men wish that you were theirs. Tough shit is what I say-"

"Your mouth!" she said, giggling as he began to grin.

"Sorry," he said with a laugh. "What's the saying? Tough cookies, then?" He smiled as he noticed that her tears had dried up and her cheeks weren't as puffy. His eyes were warm and sincere as he said, "I'm also very sorry about making you feel like a whore. I didn't mean it, and I promise that I'll never do that again. I promise you, my love. Do you believe me?"

Smiling, she nodded. "I believe you."

"I love you, Mrs. Cassadine."

"I love you, too, Nikky," she said. She closed her eyes as Nikolas thoroughly kissed her. When she was able to speak, she asked, "Now about this party? Do you really wanna go?" As she spoke to him, her fingers trailed up and down his thigh, moving closer and closer towards the inside.

"What do you think?" Nikolas grinned at her as he placed her hand right where he wanted it. He kissed her once more and then he started the Porsche. The small sports car U-turned in the middle of the road and soon the Cassadine chalet was within site, giving Dawn the answer to her question.

Chapter 2

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